Deadline day rumblings
February, 27, 2012
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
In the end, the trades that weren’t pulled off had sexier overtones than the ones that were actually registered Monday.
And unless there are dramatic changes in the next collective bargaining agreement, we’re going to have to get used to that.
The current system has produced bigger-than-ever parity, which has clogged the standings and minimized the true sellers. And because teams cannot retain salary in trades in this CBA, eating up part of a player contract like in other sports, it makes it that much more difficult to move big salaries.
It certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying Monday.
The San Jose Sharks like their team, especially with Douglas Murray and Martin Havlat coming back before the playoffs, plus Monday’s solid acquisitions of forwards Daniel Winnik and T.J. Galiardi, but, oh, there could have been a bigger move.
Sources tell ESPN.com there was renewed dialogue between the Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets regarding our favorite headline-grabbing, non-traded player, Rick Nash. And why not? Nash has listed San Jose as go-to team for him, based on the desire to play with his buddy Joe Thornton.
But the talks hit the same roadblock they did over the past weeks: Logan Couture. The Jackets demanded him in any deal right to the end. The Sharks were never, ever, going to pay that price.
Another player the Sharks inquired about was winger James van Riemsdyk in Philadelphia. Like the Jackets, the Flyers wanted a lot for JVR, and the two sides could not find a fit.
Still, it’s why Doug Wilson is one of my favorite GMs in the NHL. He ain’t scared of the big deal. But it doesn’t mean he’s going to do something stupid. The price has to be right.
Rick Nash was the most talented player on the market, but wasn’t the most sought-after player. That would be Steve Ott, who, when the clock struck 3 p.m. ET, was still where it all began for him in his NHL career. The Dallas Stars, a source told ESPN.com, fielded calls from "12 to 14 teams" over the past few weeks, including several on Monday. The Vancouver Canucks were hot and heavy for the agitator, but offering Mason Raymond wasn’t good enough for Dallas. And I don’t think Cody Hodgson was ever offered to the Stars, even though he ended up in the biggest trade of the day between the Canucks and Sabres.
For the Stars, despite the massive interest in Ott, all along it needed to be a home run deal. They needed to help themselves this season and beyond in any deal. Sitting in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Stars were not going to sell off Ott for picks or prospects. They wanted a hockey deal that made them a better team. They wanted a young top-six forward in return who would have upgraded their skill. It didn’t materialize.
They also held on to veteran blueliner Sheldon Souray, slated to be a UFA July 1. There was much debate about whether or not to move him, but the Stars balanced the fact they were possibly playoff-bound with the knowledge that Souray was a tremendously popular player in the room.
The Toronto Maple Leafs also stayed clear of any major NHL trade, although I like the acquisition of prospect Carter Ashton from Tampa.
In the end, the Leafs didn’t get the top-six forward (they were never that close on Nash) or goalie upgrade (no, thanks, was the answer to the offer to Edmonton for Nikolai Khabibulin) they had hoped for, refusing to overpay in young assets they had worked so hard to stockpile over the past few years. They also refused to sell off assets from their NHL roster, despite attractive offers. Notably, a Leafs source told ESPN.com that they were offered first-round draft picks for each of Luke Schenn, Nikolai Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski. GM Brian Burke said no, not wanting to send a message to his dressing room that the Leafs were giving up at all on their struggling playoff chase. I give Burke a ton of credit. The easy thing here would have been to make a panic move that would destroy your long-term chances. Yes, Leafs fans would love to make the playoffs for the first time in eight years, but Burke has a high standard he’s trying to get to: building a contender.
Similarly, kudos to Washington Capitals GM George McPhee. I know what you’re saying, why exactly? Because he took a knee. That’s why. This just isn’t their year. One big trade isn’t going to put the Caps over the top and make them contenders. One big trade isn’t going to clear star center Nicklas Backstrom of his concussion symptoms. McPhee did the hardest thing of all, resist the short-term fix. That takes guts.
Sure, McPhee took calls on veteran blueliner Roman Hamrlik, but couldn’t find the right fit. He wanted a young forward in return. The teams that were interested in Hamrlik couldn’t afford him that. He wasn’t interested in just getting futures for Hamrlik because he didn’t want to just get rid of a salary. He was trying to make a hockey deal, player for player. He toed the line of a team that hasn’t given up on the season because the playoffs are a possibility, and that of a team that wasn’t a move or two away from winning the Cup.
In other words, McPhee made the right call to stay quiet.
The Detroit Red Wings are a big-time Cup contender. Again. They added defenseman Kyle Quincey last week in what was a solid addition, but weren’t able to fill their other need, bottom-six forward size and grit. They tried on Paul Gaustad but didn’t have what it took to make the deal: a first-round pick, which they dealt for Quincey. They checked on Samuel Pahlsson but didn’t have the pair of fourth-round picks the Jackets wanted. Such is life. I’m not too concerned for the Wings, they’re still a big-time powerhouse and now have all kinds of cap room ($20 million-plus) for the offseason.
Did I really just write 1,000 words on trades that didn’t happen? Heck, it was more interesting than the alternative.